Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet

I realised halfway through Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet, that the ‘story’ went well beyond the novel I held in my hands. It’s one of those books that, as I was reading, I was side-tracked by internet searches. And if you’ve read Case Study, you’ll know that the Googling (and I absolutely couldn’t help myself) highlights just how clever Burnet is.

Case Study is told from three perspectives. It begins with Burnet, who describes how he came across charismatic psychotherapist Collins Braithwaite, and was then contacted by a stranger in possession of notebooks belonging to one of Braithwaite’s patients. The stranger urged Burnet to tell the patient’s story and, although Burnet was initially concerned about the authenticity of the notebooks, he did some fact-checking and took on the task. Continue reading

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart – a literary mix tape

There’s nothing I can say about Douglas Stuart’s 2020 Booker Prize winning novel, Shuggie Bain, that hasn’t already been said. Know that I laughed, I cried, and I ached for Shuggie, his alcoholic mother, Agnes, and his siblings. This story is raw and tender and hopeful and heartbreakingly sad.

In my tradition of not reviewing books that have a squillion reviews on Goodreads, I have instead put together a mix tape, drawing on some favourite passages in the book. Needless to say, I had dozens to choose from in Shuggie.

5/5 Shuggie has my heart. Continue reading

Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma by Kerry Hudson

“‘Get out, you cunting, shitting, little fucking fucker!’ were the first words I ever heard. The midwife, a shiny-faced woman who learned entirely new turns of phrase that night, smoothed Ma’s hair.’

Is that not the most impressive opening line you’ve read? It’s certainly memorable. And so begins Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma by Kerry Hudson.

It’s not just the opening line and the title that’s arresting about this story (incidentally, the title is the only thing I don’t like about this book – it’s too long to tweet). It’s a character-driven plot centred around Janie and her mother Iris, and their life in a  succession of council flats, predominantly in Scotland. Regardless of where they are, the story is the same – there’s useless men, the dole queue, drink, drugs and violence to be had in any town. But loyalty and family bonds run deep and as you follow Janie’s rises and falls, you can’t help but become attached.

“…My eyes soaked in the our new neighbourhood. Graffiti and scorch-marks, echoes of small fires, decorated doorsteps. Golden Special Brew cans and crushed vodka bottles, bright as diamonds, collected in the gutters. Front gardens were filled with mouldy paddling pools and, occasionally, a rustburnished shell of a car. I had never seen anything so beautiful, so many colours, before in grey Aberdeen.” Continue reading